The much-hyped Uganda airline commercial flight from Entebbe Airport to JKIA ha only 8 passengers on board.
The passengers were businessman Peter Ssenkungu, Workers’ Union leader Usher Wilson Owere, his wife Evelyn Were, Kwezi Tabaro, Joseph Kasigazi, and journalists Alon Mwesigwa, Olive Nakatudde, and Gyegenda Ssemakula.
The smooth touch-down was welcomed by the passengers with emphatic applause despite being few in number. The passengers described their presence on the airline’s first commercial flight as historical and a memoir worth the tale.
Uganda Airlines, founded by the country’s former dictator Idi Amin in 1976, was liquidated in 2001 during a push to privatize state firms.
This is the first time the national carrier is flying a commercial flight in 20 years – this was the beginning of a long journey that Uganda hopes it takes a sweet turn.
Uganda Airlines owns two planes. Four more have been ordered, including two Airbus jets. The carrier will fly to regional destinations such as the Somali capital, Mogadishu.
The airline received its first two CRJ900 planes from Canadian aircraft manufacturer Bombardier in April. Two more of those planes are expected next month, according to the airline.
It expects to receive one Airbus A330neo in late 2020, then a second in early 2021. Each Bombardier cost around $27m, while the carrier will pay about $110m for each of the Airbus aircraft.
The country is banking on its emerging oil industry – and the tourism sector – to generate international traffic to sustain the revitalized airline.
Uganda Airlines will face stiff competition not only from Ethiopian Airlines but also from airlines based in Rwanda and Tanzania. Those countries have also poured cash into their flag carriers in the past few years, though with far less success than Ethiopia.
Another rival regional carrier, Kenya Airways, has faced challenges in its efforts to expand. It started generating losses in 2014, after buying a number of aircraft and experiencing a slump in tourism and business travel to Kenya amidst a spate of attacks by Somalia-based fighters.